MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Three more criminal charges have surfaced in the Shelby County's justice portal for the suspect tied to the murder of Memphis mother Eliza Fletcher, but these charges represent another kidnapping that occurred nearly a year before Fletcher's disappearance.
Dating back to Sept. 21 of 2021, aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping charges as well as an unlawful carrying or possession of a weapon charge were added on Friday to Cleotha Abston's existing list of criminal charges from this year.
The Memphis Police Department (MPD) confirmed that a sexual assault report was taken on Sept. 21 and a sexual assault kit was submitted to the the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) on Sept. 23, 2021.
"An official CODIS hit was not received until after the unfortunate event that occurred on September 2, 2022," an email from MPD reads. "Probable cause to make a physical arrest of any suspect did not exist until after the CODIS hit had been received."
"CODIS" refers to the Combined DNA Index System that investigators used to determine that DNA found on sandals left at the crime scene did, in fact, match Abston's DNA.
In a statement, the TBI said that MPD first made them aware on Sept. 4 that a sexual assault kit submission could be linked to another kit—one for an assault that occurred in September of 2021 in which Abston, also known as Cleotha Henderson, may have been a suspect.
The TBI stated that MPD then submitted the kit to them on Sept. 23, 2021.
"...the evidence was put into the queue of unknown assailant kits, as no request was made for TBI analysis to be expedited, and no suspect information or DNA standard was included in the submission," the statement read.
The TBI said they do "accept rush DNA cases" when requested by a local investigative agency and that the organization relies on these agencies to identify cases that would benefit from such analysis.
"During normal casework, a forensic scientist pulled this [kit] submitted by MPD from evidence storage, along with 19 other kits designated for analysis, on June 24, 2022 and completed an initial report of the results on Aug. 29," The TBI statement read. "From there, a scientist entered the resulting unknown male DNA profile into CODIS, which returned a match on Monday, Sept. 5th for Cleotha Abston in connection to the September 2021 assault, after which TBI reported the finding to Memphis Police."
In their statement, the TBI also described an extensive backup of untested kits within their crime laboratory and a small specialized staff fulfilling work for "every biological submission"—ranging from homicides to sexual assault kits, to robberies, assaults and break-ins.
In 2021 this included 602 overall evidence submissions for four scientists, according to the TBI. The TBI said their crime laboratory received 316 sexual assault requests from law enforcement agencies in Shelby County—the most out of any Tennessee county, according to the TBI.
"We certainly recognize the profound challenges related to the volume of [kits] requiring this in-depth analysis and implemented an effort, from June through September, to focus our limited resources in this area, to reduce turnaround times by assigning scientists to prioritize these cases," the statement read.
The TBI also cited recent steps toward "vastly increasing the capacity for Forensic Biology analysis in the state" as investments have been approved by the governor and Tennessee General Assembly to add personnel to the organization's crime laboratories.
Three additional scientists and a technician will be hired as part of the TBI's "ongoing effort to improve turnaround times," the statement read.
A tracking system for survivors to obtain more frequent updates about the status of their own kit, as it works its way through the TBI's laboratory system, has also been put into place, according to the TBI.
"We are committed to improving the process for all stakeholders, especially victims and survivors, with an understanding of the profound public interest in this type of evidence and the cases they often represent," the statement read.